In the shadow of Table Mountain, Cape Town holds the key to many cultural, natural and historical experiences.
This thriving port city truly offers something for every type of traveller. For hikers and nature enthusiasts, Table Mountain awaits. For wildlife lovers, there’s a colony of African penguins nearby. For beach bums, the white sands of Camps Bay are unbeatable. But the city and indeed the country’s tumultuous past has not been forgotten, and the sombre site of Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years is open to the public. To help you decide how to spend a day in Cape Town, we’ve highlighted the top activities and attractions and spoken to seasoned travellers for their top tips.
The best things to do in Cape Town
The historical district of Bo-Kaap
Distance from cruise terminal: 30-minute walk
Bo-Kaap is a vibrant neighbourhood of Cape Town, also known as the Malay Quarter. Traditionally a multicultural district, Bo-Kaap is an excellent place to visit to get a sense of the city’s diversity in culture. To find out more about the area, we spoke to Vicky of travel blog Vicky Flip Flop Travels. “I loved Cape Town and I’m desperate to go back,” said Vicky. “Bo-Kaap was just the jewel in the crown of what was a brilliant few days there. It felt like a modern and fun city, and one I’d like to spend more time in.
“To be honest I didn’t really have any expectations of Bo-Kaap as I hadn’t actually heard of it until I started researching what to do in Cape Town. I had a great time exploring the colourful streets though and went for dinner in a home to sample the Malay style of cooking. It’s a great place to wander around but if you manage to find a supper club while you’re there, I’d definitely recommend it. I love looking around people’s houses!”
We asked Vicky if she’d recommend a visit to Bo-Kaap to other travellers: “Oh definitely. Fun, quirky, interesting and great photo opportunities. Also, it’s such an integral part of Cape Town and South Africa’s history that you should visit just to learn more. As I say, definitely seek out the opportunity to speak to a local about life there. Like anywhere, there will be a lot of opinions floating about.”
Distance from cruise terminal: 20-minute taxi ride to cableway
Soaring more than 3,500 feet above the city, Table Mountain is perhaps Cape Town’s most iconic attraction. The unique flat-topped mountain attracts all types of tourists, from serious hikers and nature enthusiasts to day trippers. Its spectacular cable car makes the mountain accessible to everyone and offers incredible views over Cape Town.
To find out more about what it’s like to explore Table Mountain, we spoke to seasoned traveller and blogger Sofie. In 2012, Sofie launched WonderfulWanderings.com, a travel blog through which she helps people travel ‘worry-free’ by providing them with detailed itineraries and practical tips.
“I'd heard mixed things about Cape Town before I went, “said Sofie. “Some people were super positive about it while others were slightly apprehensive. We saw quite a bit of the city and loved it. From the beaches to the Waterfront, Table Mountain and even a trip around the peninsula, we spent a lovely few days there.
“Even though the famous cloud hung over Table Mountain when we visited, we both felt it was worth the trip up as it's quite nice to hike around the top. If you only have a day in Cape Town, it's important to know that visiting Table Mountain might take up a big part of your day. Also make sure to get your tickets beforehand to avoid having to queue.”
Distance from cruise terminal: 15-20-minute taxi ride
If you want to spend your cruise stopover in Cape Town soaking up the sun, head to Camps Bay. This spectacular white sand beach has unbeatable coastal views and a natural rock swimming pool, perfect for cooling off in the warmer months. If you don’t fancy a dip in the ocean, you can sip on cocktails or a crisp glass of wine at one of the many plush beach bars and restaurants.
Distance from cruise terminal: Ferries to Robben Island depart from V&A Waterfront, 5 minutes from the cruise terminal
Robben Island is an important landmark just off the coast of Cape Town. Famous for being the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, the island is a solemn reminder of South Africa’s tumultuous past. Today, visitors can reflect on history at Robben Island and visit Mandela’s old cell. Ferries to the island depart from the V&A Waterfront, next to the cruise terminal, from 9am, 1pm and 3pm, weather permitting. It’s recommended that visitors allow 4 hours for the tour and ferry journeys.
Distance from cruise terminal: 1-hour taxi ride or train journey
Wildlife enthusiasts won’t want to miss out on a visit to Boulders Beach. Here, a colony of African penguins resides on the white sand shores, and they’re happy to welcome visitors! It’s advised that you stick to the boardwalks when you’re close to the penguins, and follow the rules outlined by Cape Peninsula National Park. But if you’re taking a dip in the water or relaxing on the beach, don’t be surprised to find a penguin waddling over your towel. Getting to Boulders Beach via Simon’s Town takes a reasonable amount of time, so if you are planning on seeing the penguins, be sure to factor in the time it takes to get there and back.
Top tips for your cruise to Cape Town
“The mountains, beaches and coastlines are stunning”
Nadeen from The Sophisticated Life refers to herself as a blogger by day and a doctor by night. “I get to live out my passions of taking care of children and also travelling in my free time. The Sophisticated Life was created to share my travel experiences with the goal of inspiring others to travel around the world.
“I have been to Cape Town and I absolutely love it. It is a city I could imagine living in. The mountains, beaches and coastlines are stunning. The vineyards nearby produce excellent wines. But most importantly, the people are warm and welcoming. South Africans have great resilience and pride in their homeland.
“Take a trip up to Table Mountain. Spend half of the day road tripping along the Cape Peninsula. Make stops at Boulders Beach to see the penguins, Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope. In the evening head to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront for beautiful sunset views, food, shopping and entertainment.”
Nadeen’s top travel tip: “Stay close to the V&A waterfront. It is a very walkable part of town and you find yourself at the waterfront often.”
“When I think of Cape Town, I think of the amazing people that live in the city, the arts scene, and all the culture you can experience”
Kate of solo female travel blog Adventurous Kate has visited all seven continents and 76 countries, including South Africa. Named as one of the 10 most influential travellers in the world by Forbes last year, it’s safe to say Kate has a wealth of travel knowledge. We asked her about her experience in Cape Town:
“Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully set cities in the world. But when I think of Cape Town, I think of the amazing people that live in the city, the arts scene, and all the culture you can experience. The easy access to fantastic wine doesn’t hurt either!
“If the weather is nice, you should absolutely head to the top of Table Mountain, either by cable car or hiking if you’d prefer. You can get amazing views of the city from there. Next, head to Camps Bay and enjoy views of the beach while you grab a bite to eat. Finally, finish with a helicopter ride just before sunset!”
Kate’s top travel tip: “Look up the forecast a few days in advance and plan accordingly. Devote the nicer days to Table Mountain, Camps Bay, a helicopter ride and Robben Island, spend the less nice days on shopping, museums and culture. This is especially important if you visit during the winter months.”
“There’s so much to see, new foods to try and every neighbourhood has a story to tell”
Cristal, Caribbean-born Australian traveller and author of blog Tofu Traveler documents her adventures to help people navigate some of the more challenging parts of travelling alone while finding the best vegetarian food in every destination. “Cape Town is a fun and lively city filled with people from all walks of life,” said Cristal. “The one thing that strikes me about the city is how beautiful it is. Table Mountain is visible from around the city and stands out with the distinct tablecloth-like clouds that waterfall over the top. The beaches are filled with white sand and the bay from any viewpoint is really a sight to see.
“The best thing about the city is you don’t need to go very far to make the most of it. Start the day with either taking the table car or hiking up Table Mountain. Once you’ve taken in the views, head back down and spend some time in historical Bo Kaap, a colourful Malay neighbourhood where you can grab some lunch or get hands-on with cooking class.
“A short ride or walk will get you to Greenmarket Square and the Pan African Market in the centre for some souvenir shopping. End the day at the popular seaside suburb of Camps Bay where you can relax with a drink and take a walk along the sand.”
Cristal’s top travel tip: “Spend the day walking and exploring as much as possible. There’s so much to see, new foods to try and every neighbourhood has a story to tell.”
Feeling inspired to explore Cape Town? Keep an eye on our fantastic cruise deals to start planning your dream getaway.
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